Sunday, April 16, 2006

Sermon: Easter

16 April 2006 at Salem L.C., Gretna, LA
Text: Mark 16:1-8 (and Job 19:23-27, 1 Cor 5:6-8) (Historic)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Since the ancient Enemy was not able to destroy Jesus, to crush the Church out of existence, to silence the proclamation of the Gospel, he relies on another strategy: the lie. One of the most dangerous of these Satanic lies looks rather innocent.

How often have we heard people explain that they believe in life after death, but when asked to explain, they tell you that they mean the spirit and not the body? Why is this bad?

Because it denies Easter and distorts the creation of the universe. Let me explain.

God created some creatures to be servants. They are called “angels” – and they have no bodies. They are pure spirits. But then God created other creatures – animals – creatures of flesh and blood into which he breathed his spirit, animated and brought to life. Finally, he created the pinnacle of creation – man. Mankind is like an angel – in that he is a spiritual being, but he is also like an animal – since he has flesh and blood. But man is something more: he was made in God’s image.

So, mankind is above both the animals and the angels.

Since we have physical bodies, we can physically touch one another. We can feel the warm sunshine and the cool breeze. We can move around in contact with God’s good earth, as our spirits are contained in these wonderful bodies. We can eat, we can see and hear, we can appreciate beauty. We can sing and enjoy music. Some of our race can even create things of beauty – reflecting the creativity of God in whose image we have been made.

The physical body is a glorious and good thing.

But how many times have you heard the big lie (from Christians and non-Christians alike) that Christianity hates the body, condemns pleasure, is against anything that feels or tastes good? How many times have you heard the charge that Christianity is against sexuality (which begs the question as to how more Christians are made…)?

How many times have you heard the lie (from Christians and non-Christians alike) that when we die, we cast off our bad old bodies in exchange for a better “spiritual” existence? Some even say we become angels. There is an underlying assumption that the spirit is good, and the body is bad.

Every false religion of the world teaches this. In fact, the Greek and Roman pagan religions taught it – and Christians were persecuted for denying it. The Eastern religions say that the goal of religion is to shed off the body and live as pure spirits. Science fiction likes to fantasize that human consciousness can exist in a computer program – without a fleshly body. The New Age religions claim we can transcend the limitations of our bodies with lucid dreaming, affirmations, and visualization.

None of this has anything to do with the Christian faith.

For in the Book of Genesis, God creates a physical world, and blesses it on each day of creation, calling it “good.” When the whole creation is complete, he calls it “very good.” He makes physical man, rather than the angels, in his image. He gives us the gifts of food, of our senses, of beauty, even sexuality – to be experienced physically – not merely talked about or imagined.

Now here is where the lie is so damaging: to promote the separation of man’s spirit from man’s body is to promote one thing only: death. If we hold that the physical is bad and must be gotten rid of, well, death fixes that, doesn’t it? Do you see how perverse this is? This false dichotomy between body and spirit is a diabolical lie of the worst sort. It is a damnable lie. And it is the linchpin of our culture of death.

How often do we hear such nonsense at funerals: “Uncle Bob will live on in our hearts,” “Aunt Mary will never die as long as we remember her.” “Bill may be gone, but his memory lives on.” All of these things make resurrection sound like it’s not a resurrection at all, but rather only the fact that we remember them. Isn’t that a clever way for the devil to get us to deny the resurrection of the body?

But what does the word of God say?

Job, who wishes “Oh, that my words were written! Oh, that they were inscribed in a book… engraved on a rock…” (yes, Job, ask and you shall receive!) testifies: “I know that my Redeemer lives… and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

In other words, it has been revealed to Job that we will be resurrected bodily, ourselves – not reincarnated over and over again, not separated from the flesh, not simply as some sort of ghostly or spiritual way. We won’t simply live on in the thoughts, memories, and hearts of those left behind. And this revelation has been written for all to read – according to Job’s prayer.

Why is this important?

Because Satan seeks to undermine God’s work. He wants us to undermine God’s creation as defective, that our imperfections are a design flaw rather than our own sin. He wants us to see death as a solution, and not as a consequence of our own failings. And once death is a “solution,” look at the “problems” it can fix. An “inconvenient” child can simply be “fixed” with abortion. An elderly person who is not dying, yet whose treatments are expensive, can be “fixed” by pulling the plug. A wife on a feeding tube whose life is an impediment to one’s desire to remarry can be “fixed” by exposing her to legal murder by dehydration and starvation – while all the world watches – some in sympathetic horror, others with demonic glee.

Indeed, the separation of the body from the spirit is death. It is ugly, unnatural, and waiting for all of us.

But does God leave us in this situation? Thanks be to God, he does not! For we know our Redeemer lives! We know he redeems us from our sins, and destroys death on our behalf. The reason we are here this morning is because we too know our Redeemer lives. He walked out of his tomb, angels told Mary Magdalene, who then told the apostles. And they were afraid. They knew something earth-shattering had happened. But they did not fear for long, because Jesus physically appeared to them. “By his death, he has destroyed death, and by his rising to life again, he has restored to us everlasting life.”

Jesus wasn’t merely doing a magic trick, or settling an old score with the devil. For in his victory is our victory. In his conquest of death, we are more than conquerors. In his resurrection, we too are born to everlasting life, through being born again by water and the Spirit. For we are both physical and spiritual creatures, and the Holy Spirit quickens us in the body by real, physical water at baptism.

Today is celebrated by the Christian Church as a “feast” day. In our liturgy, we sang “This is the Feast of Victory for our God.” St. Paul, in our epistle reading, implores us to “keep the feast” of Christ’s Passover sacrifice for us. What is a feast? It’s not merely a celebration, not only a time of joy. A feast is only a feast if we’re eating a meal! We humans can feast because we have bodies. The angels can’t feast. They don’t know the sheer pleasure of a glorious meal, the fellowship and contact of eating with others. They don’t know what it’s like to taste, to dine, to drink. They will never have that sheer pleasure that we humans have. Not even the former highest of angels, Lucifer, will ever have this pleasure that we take for granted every day of our lives.

Our eternal existence in heaven is described by Scripture as a feast that never ends. But one can’t feast without a body. This is why we Christians treat the dead with reverence and respect. A Christian’s body is a sacred relic, holy, sanctified by baptism and by eating and drinking the Lord’s body and blood.

And this is precisely how our risen Lord comes to us, becomes part of us, has physical contact with us – in this feast we call the Lord’s Supper. Our blessed Lord comes to us in a holy meal – not symbolically, not spiritually – but rather physically. Although we have corrupted our physical world with disobedience, though we misuse the gifts our Lord has given us, though we are mortal because of our sin – we have a physical Redeemer who physically restores us through being with us physically in physical elements of bread and wine – which are truly his physical body and blood.

Jesus re-consecrates and re-sanctifies the fallen world. He restores our fallen bodies. Anyone who claims the physical world is bad, that our bodies are something evil, that our spirits must get rid of, is telling you a diabolical, Satanic lie. For the Psalmist implores us to “taste and see that the Lord is good!” – even as Job tells us we shall see God in the flesh, with our eyes.

Jesus dies to take on our corruption and sin, to pay the penalty we deserve – and that is death, the removal of the body from the spirit. And since Jesus dies and pays that price, we have the promise of eternal life. Jesus distributes this newness, this restored body and soul, to us every time we gather in this holy, and yet very physical, place. You can’t get the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection remotely. They can’t be sent to you as an e-mail attachment. You can’t watch it on TV. You get the benefits of our Lord’s sacrifice in the flesh – your flesh and his flesh, at the hands of a flesh-and-blood pastor.

My dear Christian brothers and sisters – we not only see the resurrected Jesus, we not only hear him speak – we, by virtue of his Holy Meal, this paschal feast, unite with him in flesh and blood, mingling his resurrected and perfect flesh with our mortal and sinful flesh. We are physically renewed and re-created by this supernatural encounter – an encounter we can see, smell, and taste.

“By his death, he has destroyed death, and by his rising to life again, he has restored to us everlasting life.”

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

1 comment:

Pastor Beisel said...

Fr. Beane,

You have been in the ministry for less time than me, and yet your sermons have the poignancy of a seasoned preacher. I am both thankful for the good Word that you have preached, and envious of the God-given ability to write such truthful and good sermons. Your flock is blessed.